LAHAD DATU BACKFIRES: Najib is shaking, has he lost Sabah - Anwar
Fighting for his political survival, embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has unleashed a range of scenarios and media spin in an apparent bid to damage control the storm of negative publicity his alleged mishandling of an armed group of Filipino intruders on Malaysian soil had triggered.
But critics say Najib's 'over-usage' of tools frequently used by his strategists, such as rounding up groups linked to his Umno party to speak up for him while pouring the blame on arch rival Anwar Ibrahim, may result in his efforts failing to gain traction.
"Tanya sama Najib apa sebab goyang. Nanti jawab Najib Sabah akan hilang(Ask why is Najib shaking and Najib might answer it is because he has lost Sabah)," Anwar, the leader of the Malaysian Opposition, had said to the delight of a huge crowd in Ledang, Johor on Friday night, where he was doing a road-tour in preparation for the coming general election.
The 64-year-old Anwar, whom many Malaysians see as becoming the next prime minister, later told reporters following his Jelajah Merdeka Rakyat (Free the People) bus tour that the Lahad Datu incident was a serious security breach and that it would take time for the dust to settle on the shooting that has claimed 14 lives so far.
"At this stage, we want to extend our condolences to the families of those who died in the shootout. The matter is still ongoing and the implications are very serious, so we do not wish to politicize or comment further at this stage," said Anwar.
Security breach: What happened to the Scorpenes?
He had earlier issued a statement lambasting Najib's pussyfooting over the matter, which the Opposition suspects was hatched to hide ulterior motives aimed to help the ruling Umno-BN coalition retain political power in Sabah state.
"Why was our national borders so easily infiltrated by a band of armed foreigners, and pertinently why was the federal government so compromising in resolving the situation from the start?" said Anwar.
"National security cannot be taken lightly nor seen as low-priority. The people need to be informed fully about what actually happened in Lahad Datu for the last three weeks, including today’s exchanges."
Najib's classic cowards' ploy
Amid growing accusations that he had deliberately been too soft on the group of more than 100 intruders holed up in a village in Lahad Datu, Najib wielded the stick on Saturday, warning that there would be no more negotiations.
“The government is taking the stand, the time to consider the group’s request is over. We are firm in this matter because what they had done was a serious criminal act... they trespassed and killed police officers and injured our security forces personnel. They have only two choices, give up or receive action from our security forces,” said Najib.
The Malaysian PM then accused the intruders of a classic cowards' ploy.
“According to the report I received and which was confirmed by the VAT69 Commando force, they were entrapped by thus group. Some had raised a white flag as a sign of surrender but another group had shot at them. This was this group’s trap, they carried out that tactic, that coward’s tactic,” Najib said.
However, critics discredited Najib's explanation as being too "slicked". They also pointed out that it was more cowardly to accuse those had already died of a crime when they could no longer defend themselves.
Sweeping the breach under the carpet?
They also slammed him for sweeping under the carpet the reasons why his government had failed to stop the armed Filipinos, who claim to be members from the Sulu Sultan's army, from being able to land on Lahad Datu.
The Filipinos had arrived in simple boats, breaching Malaysia's security lines although the navy had at the ready two Scorpene submarines which Najib had controversially acquired for the Malaysian government some years ago amid accusations of high-level corruption and kickbacks.
14 men, including 2 Malaysian cops, were killed and three wounded after Malaysian police exchanged gunfire with the intruders on Friday morning. They had refused to leave peacefully, snubbing a February 22 deadline given by the Malaysian government.
The BN-controlled Star news portal also reported that a curfew has been in place at Lahad Datu town and its surrounding areas since 4pm.
Conflicting accounts & conspiracy theories
Conflicting accounts of how the violence flared up has added to the confusion, with Najib and his cousin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, slammed for not showing greater leadership and shrouding the raid on the intruder's camp with a veil of mystery.
Amid accusations their lack of coordination had resulted in unnecessary bloodshed and overly high fatalities, Najib and his Umno party have rushed to appease rumblings, especially within the police force over the deaths of the 2 cops killed by a mortar bomb explosion.
Mainstream media reports have also tried to linked the intrusion with Anwar, citing alleged Philippine media reports.Citing the blog MPP Online quoting Philippine media Inquirer News, Umno-owned daily Utusan reported that:
“A Philippine news portal Inquirer News has exposed that a top opposition leader in Sabah who is close to (opposition leader) Anwar had met with the insurgents offering his support for the group presently in Sabah.
“Inquirer News citing Philippine intelligence sources was reported saying the meeting took place last November, causing the Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his followers to infiltrate Kampung Tanduo to stage the Sabah claim from within Malaysia.”
National news agency Bernama too jumped on the bandwagon citing an unnamed report that quoted a Philippine army personnel, “who is a loyal follower of Sulu raja muda Azzimudie Kiram, as saying the group has come at the invitation of a ‘Malaysian opposition’ to discuss land issues in Sabah”.
All eyes on Umno: Worse is yet to come?
The responses from Najib and his Umno party are being monitored closed by seasoned political watchers, who fear the worst was yet to come.
They pointed to the warning from a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader that the Lahad Datu gunfight could spark off a civil war in Sabah, while the Sultanate of Sulu said its group of fighters, which had set foot here about three weeks ago, will continue their fight.
"We find the situation very worrisome. There is no doubt Umno is very afraid of losing Sabah to the Opposition in the coming general election. We see them using scare tactics to stop the people from supporting the Opposition and Lahad Datu is now a powder keg because of their manipulations," Tian Chua, a PKR vice president and an Opposition Member of Parliament, told Malaysia Chronicle.
"We hope the Sabah people will not take the bait and keep their eyes and ears open to what is really happening in Sabah, the undercurrents that the Sabah Umno leaders in particular are trying to achieve with the Lahad Datu intrusion."